Stump speeches? Election promises? Party platforms? Forget about those boring old things. What really appear to be making a difference in how the upcoming Turkish parliamentary elections will turn out are surreptitiously recorded "sex tapes" that have caught some of Turkey's top politicians with literally their pants down.
The outcome of the June election is already a foregone conclusion, with most pollsters predicting that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will again cruise to an easy victory and hold on to a strong majority in the 550-seat Turkish parliament. The main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) is expected to do better than last time around, when it received around 20 percent of the vote, almost solely because the party was finally able to get rid of its long-term leader, Deniz Baykal, a year ago. Baykal, of course, was forced to resign after a mysterious video recording was posted online showing the 71-year-old and his (not much younger) former secretary engaged in some fairly tame hanky panky. It's not clear if the tape was a successfully executed inside job or a hit job that backfired, but either way, thanks to it the CHP has been able to execute a successful makeover (see this previous Eurasianet article for more on this).
Now it appears to be the turn of Turkey's other main opposition party, the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP), to be hit with a sex tape scandal of its own. In recent days, hidden-camera footage has been posted online showing four of the party's senior members in compromising situations with young women. Two of them have already resigned. (More details here.) [UPDATE - The other two party leaders have now also resigned.]
The footage was released at a critical juncture for the MHP. The party, which received 14 percent of the vote in the 2007 parliamentary elections, is currently fighting to get enough votes to make it over the 10 percent threshold needed to get into parliament. Since the party's core constituency is not only nationalist but also socially conservative, the release of the sex tapes could be quite a blow for the party.
The MHP's leadership has blamed the AKP for the release of the online footage. They don't have any solid proof, but there is no doubt that one of the AKP's main election strategies has been to court the MHP's voters in order to keep the party out of parliament. As the Carnegie Endowment's Henri Barkey explains in a recent analysis:
Should MHP fail to pass the barrier, the AKP—given Turkey’s electoral rules—would almost certainly receive a disproportionate share of seats that otherwise would have gone to MHP. This outcome is what Erdogan would love to see and has strived to ensure. After all, every seat his party wins brings him closer to the 367 seats needed to alter the constitution with relative ease.
Regardless of who is behind it, the MHP sex tape scandal is also another reminder of just how pervasive the use of illegally obtained material, particularly private phone conversations, has become in Turkish politics. For more on that, take a look at this story I filed last year from Istanbul's phone tappers' bazaar.